Monthly Archives: February 2010

Town Meeting Day is right around the corner

Troy Town Clerk Lucille Cadieux is retiring after 35 years. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar, February 26, 2010

So we have found someone to cover every single Town Meeting in Orleans County, plus Brighton, and all the letters to the editor that could possibly get shoehorned into this week’s Chronicle are there — or at least shortened versions of them.

Whew.

So I can take a deep breath and realize that now it’s okay to actually get excited that Town Meeting Day is Tuesday.

Call me crazy, but it’s got to be just about my favorite day of the year.  You just never, ever, know what’s going to happen.  The people come forward and share some baked beans and pie and vote on the decisions so important to their towns, schools, roads, electricity, and anything else they want to, under other business.  That stuff might be non-binding, but it’s still important and interesting.

Every vote counts, and every citizen in every town has an equal ability to speak up and be heard.

I did not have time to write an editorial, or opinion, about the wind vote in Lowell.  But if I did, I would have urged the voters to turn it down.  Not that I’m completely anti-wind, either.  But I just don’t see that the benefits of tearing off the tops of the wild and pristine Lowell Mountains to put up 24 400-foot turbines is worth the damage that would be done.  It’s not all about the view, but hey, can we just say that yes, the view matters.  In all this debate, the one thing I have not been able to understand is those who sort of scorn the idea that  it’s all about “aesthetics” as if aesthetics are a flimsy excuse.

Hang on.

Isn’t Vermont the state that was first to put a return on bottles so we would not have to look at litter on the side of the road?  Didn’t we ban signs so we could see those mountains?  Hasn’t there been a longstanding tradition of keeping the wild, rural beauty of the landscape intact as much as possible?

But for some reason that’s just not important any more?

One letter writer pointed out that catamounts have been seen in Albany, near Lowell Mountain.  In fact I did a story about someone photographing a catamount with a game camera triggered by motion.  Catamounts don’t get to vote on the wind project, neither do the citizens of Albany and Craftsbury.

Just after that letter writer mentioned the catamount, which I think is a good point, I happened to be at the Northeast Organic Farming Association winter conference in Burlington and what did I see at UVM?

A beautiful statue of a catamount, which is of course, UVM’s mascot.  If they build those turbines, will the catamounts stay?  We can’t ask them.  Maybe we will be left with nothing more than the statue, which would be too bad in my opinion.

The University of Vermont mascot is the catamount. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

I know what you are thinking.  The Senate just voted to shut down Vermont Yankee, where is Vermont going to get its electricity?

I would rather see Vermont build a new nuclear plant than put wind turbines all over the mountains.  It’s true that it would take a long time to build a new plant, but with the advances in technology in the last 40 years chances are pretty good it would be safe and clean.

Meanwhile we have good neighbors to the north who provide us with hydro power.  We can put more effort into conservation, and research and development of methane digesters on the farms and other biomass projects.  This is an area with huge potential and could not only keep the remaining few dairy farms in business, it would put some of the working landscape that is lately just sitting around growing weeds back to work.

With the money that is going to be putting into tearing off the tops of the Lowell Mountains to put up those giant turbines, we could put up a small wind tower and solar panel for a good share of homes in the Northeast Kingdom.

Also related to Town Meeting this week, I interviewed Lucille Cadieux, who has been the Town Clerk in Troy for 35 years.  What a great lady.  We will all miss Ms. Cadieux very, very much.  I hope you will take a look at my story in this week’s Chronicle.

Vermont’s energy future is a moving target, for sure.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, please post a comment whether you agree or disagree with what I said here.

Thanks again for reading and don’t forget to go to your Town Meeting and vote.

The Azurs — the people behind the pellet plant

by Bethany M. Dunbar, February 19, 2010

Fran and Melanie Azur have some of the most photogenic cattle I have ever seen.  And I’ve seen a lot of cattle.

The big story in the Chronicle this week is the Island Pond airport, which the Azurs want to buy in order to make a log yard for chipping up wood to make into pellets at the former Ethan Allen furniture plant.

The story has generated a lot of controversy among those who don’t want to lose the airport.  In truth it is not used much and would be a perfect place for the wood chipping part of their operation because the land is basically all prepped for the site.  The pellet plant promises to bring desperately needed jobs to Essex County.  But taking the airport out of play means losing the potential of developing it more and bringing in more business in the future.

Personally it seems to me a fair trade off.  The Azurs are the kind of people who do what they say they are going to do, which makes me think the risk of losing the airport is worth it in trade for jobs that are more definite.

Paul Lefebvre is covering this story, and as he was working on it, we found ourselves looking up the profile of the Azurs I had written in 2008 as owners of the Vermont Highland Cattle Company — for background.  So it seemed like a good week to post that story.

I also wrote about them in a post about standardbred horses.  (look in the horses category on the right side of this blog).  They helped the Orleans County Fair promote harness racing last summer and plan to do it again this coming year.

The Azurs are cow people and horse people.  They can’t be all bad, right?

Meanwhile on the Chronicle’s web site, while you are watching the Olympics you can check out my profile of Susan Dunklee of Barton who is on the U.S. Biathlon Team and almost made it to the Olympic team.  She introduced some of the other athletes to sugar on snow, and you can read about that on her blog here at word press:  susandunklee.wordpress.com.

My neighbors have started putting up pipeline and tapping the maple trees, which is easier to do this year with such a small amount of snow.  Maple sugaring season means it’s almost spring.  How about that?

Heifers. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Vermont Highland Cattle is serious about beef

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, October 8, 2008

NEWPORT CENTER — Vermont Highland Cattle owners Melanie and Francis Azur have recently bought their sixth farm, a refrigerated truck, and the former Comstock plant in Orleans where they will be able to butcher beef.  The plan is to set that up sometime next year.

At this point the company has 14 employees in Vermont and 500 head of cattle.

“Our goal is to get up to 1,000 or 2,000,” Ms. Azur said.

The company was started in 2005, and in 2006, as Ms. Azur puts it, “we got serious.”

Vermont Highland Cattle is planning to get even more serious, and part of its plan is to be a good neighbor.  The company is donating a ton of beef to local schools.

Mr. Azur was born in Newport and met his wife, Melanie, in Pennsylvania.  The two were working together in support services for real estate transactions.  Eventually they started a company together, called ATM Corporation of America, which does appraisals, titles, and closing services.  The two owned that company from 1993 until August of last year.

Although they have spent a lot of their time in Pennsylvania, they are regularly in Vermont as well, and six years ago they built a house in Newport Center.  They still have a place in Pennsylvania and divide their time between the two places.

The Azurs have always had animals.  In Pennsylvania they have 30 Paso Fino horses that they show, plus standardbred racehorses they raise and race, plus a couple of Icelandic horses they bought during a trip to Iceland.

The Scottish Highland beef cattle breed appealed to the Azurs for a lot of reasons.  The animals are hardy, their meat is low in fat, they do well in the Vermont climate, they are smart and have a nice temperament, and they are quite beautiful.  At first the Azurs bought ten show animals.

Those animals seemed to do very well, and the Azurs decided to make their interest into something more than a hobby.  They started raising meat animals and found selling the beef was easy.  They still sell halves and mixed quarters from the farm, and some goes to area stores and restaurants, including the Craftsbury General Store.

“Our intent is to get into some of the restaurants in Stowe,” Ms. Azur said.  Then they will advance to selling the meat to restaurants around New England.

The general manager of the company is Josh Mason.  Ray Edwards is in charge of sales, and he is finding that the local beef sells very well.  Some of the chefs are very excited to hear about it.  One of the problems is that some want exclusively grass-fed beef, and others want beef finished by feeding them some grain.

“We’re kind of in a transition phase,” Mr. Edwards said.  “Right now they are grain finished.”

They are working on a system to have some animals fed each way so they can fill both markets.

“We know that a lot of the restaurants just want consistency,” said Ms. Azur, meaning a company that can supply beef year-round, which the Azurs can do.

“Everybody is more and more concerned with where the animals are grown,” Mr. Edwards said, including how they are treated.

Although the Vermont Highland Cattle are not organic, they are not given grain with antibiotics in it or growth hormones.  Some of the large cattle dealers out west regularly feed cattle antibiotics to increase their appetites in hot weather, Ms. Azur said.

The only reason for using antibiotics on the Vermont Highland Cattle would be if an animal became sick.  The majority of the animals don’t ever get treated, according to herd master Derek Williams.

“They’re on pasture as long as they possibly can be,” he said.  The company just bought the former Bob Judd farm in order to have enough pasture acres for all their animals.  Ms. Azur said they have about 500 acres of pasture, and each animal needs about an acre.

In the winter they get silage bales made on the Azurs’ farms.  They have 800 acres of crop land.

Young animals are kept with their mothers for five or six months.

“They learn how to graze and how to be a cow,” she said.

The animals are taken to local slaughterhouses — St. Johnsbury and Troy — so they don’t have to travel great distances packed tightly into huge trailers.

Mr. Edwards said he sees a lot of similarities between the beef industry right now and the organic movement a number of years ago.  Mr. Edwards came to this job from New Haven, Connecticut, where he worked in the produce department of an organic market.  His wife is a vegan chef, and they still have a place in Connecticut where she works.

He said he sees the local food movement as being about more than just geography.  It’s about knowing your farmer and meeting with that person directly.  In other words, a chef in Boston might consider Vermont Highland Cattle as local beef because the chef can ask questions of the people who raised the animal and even make requests (such as to finish the animal with grain or not).

The Azurs are clearly quite proud of their cows.  All of the bulls but one have won national championships in shows.  They are all in the same paddock together and seem to get along just fine.  They don’t mind visitors coming into the paddock and seem to enjoy having their pictures taken and a nice scratch on the neck.

“They love to be brushed and spoiled,” Ms. Azur said.

Mr. Williams just graduated from the University of Vermont and has been showing Highland cattle since he was nine years old.

He and the Azurs know the Shatneys of Greensboro, who have raised and shown Highland cattle for years.

Another main interest of the Azurs is hunting, and their home is a showcase of huge impressive trophies — full body mounts of deer, bear, and a head and the front shoulders of a bison are seen in the main entrance.  Mr. Azur has hunted all over the globe, including alligators in Lousiana and bears in Alaska.

“It took us two times to Alaska to get the brown bear you wanted,” Ms. Azur said to her husband.  Ms. Azur fishes.  She doesn’t hunt but often accompanies her husband on his hunting trips.

Another hobby of theirs is helping others who are less fortunate.

“Fran and I are pretty active in philanthropic ideas,” Ms. Azur said.  The two started a foundation, the Bartko Foundation, using Ms. Azur’s maiden name.  Its mission is to help single minority women get education, transportation, and housing in Pittsburgh.

Monthly beef donations to the local schools were scheduled to begin on Monday, September 29, with 60 pounds apiece to schools in Newport Center, Troy, Jay-Westfield, Lowell, and Coventry.

Melanie and Fran Azur at their home in Newport Center. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

A haircut and an award

by Bethany M. Dunbar, February 12, 2010

I did it.  I went to the Jon Somes Salon in Newport and wow.  What fun, a whole new look for me!   If you have not read my post about the future of journalism, I got this haircut after seeing a full-page ad in the Chronicle and thinking, well, that was a good idea.  I bet it got him a lot of business.  It turns out that was the case, and he was so busy, thanks to the ad, I had to wait a week to get my new look.  The wait was worth it, his rates are reasonable, and I made another appointment.  Yay.  Here’s me yesterday:

Photo by Joseph Gresser

Kind of drab and boring looking, don’t you think?  Thanks Jon!  I feel light and bouncy.  On the way out of the salon, the traffic stopped to let me and my son’s girlfriend go across the street.  Yes, you heard it right.  My new haircut stopped traffic.

The other thing I wanted to mention today is that the Chronicle just won first place for its series of investigative article on Safe Choices.  If you look at my post on that subject here, you will see the letter that our publisher wrote about why we devoted so much time to that story.  Congratulations to Chris Braithwaite and Paul Lefebvre for an excellent job on some very difficult stories.  The entire series is posted on the Chronicle’s web site. If you haven’t read it, you should.  It’s about how we as a society handle mentally disabled men suspected of being sexually dangerous.  These men have not been convicted of anything and can’t go through the court system because they can’t understand it.

Here’s what the New England Newspaper and Press Association judges had to say:

“Weekly Class 2  •  First Place

Paul Lefebvre and Chris Braithwaite,

The Chronicle, Barton, VT

The Chronicle investigated an important issue

that does not ordinarily get a lot of attention

from newspapers. The reporters did a great job

of spelling out the tribulations of these men.

Very nice writing.”

As journalists we are not very good at tooting our own horns sometimes.  Perhaps it’s because one of the hazards of the job is that we have to spend a lot of time listening to other people tooting their own horns.  And we know how that sounds.  But you know, once in a while we really do some good work and should go ahead and toot.  This is one of those times.

We also need to market ourselves better, and we are working on that at the Chronicle.  We’re developing a set of testimonial ads from our regular advertisers about why they use the Chronicle to sell their wares.  This should be a fun series and starts in this week’s paper.  I hope you will check it out!  Thanks for reading and have a great Valentine’s Day.

Craftsbury ski marathon

Juergen Uhl celebrates after winning the men's 50-kilometer Craftsbury ski marathon on Saturday. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Susan Dunklee of Barton, member of U.S. Biathlon Team, won the 50-kilometer women's marathon (at right).

by Bethany M. Dunbar, February 5, 2010

Congratulations to everyone who skied in the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s ski marathon on Saturday.  The winner of the 50-kilometer men’s marathon skied that distance in just a bit more than two and a half hours.  The winner of the women’s 50-kilometer race was Susan Dunklee of Barton, whose exploits I have been following for the Chronicle (check out our web site at www.bartonchronicle.com).  For more about Susan, who is a member of the U.S. Biathlon team, check out her blog:  www.susandunklee.wordpress.com.

Last year I covered the marathon from the vantage point of participating in the untimed ski tour, which is 25 kilometers.  This year due to the rain the week before, the tour had to be postponed, and the race was concentrated on smaller loops that looped back to the outdoor center.

When I got up that morning it was 11 below zero at home, so I was quite relieved that we tour people would not be skiing.  It was not that cold in Craftsbury at the start of the race, so it was safe for the race to happen.  Posted below is my marathon article and some photos that would not fit in the paper.  For full results check out the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s web site.  You will be impressed at how many local people participate.

There’s plenty more skiing left to be done this winter, and when we get cold we can head inside, get a hot chocolate or a beer and watch the Olympics in Vancouver.  And of course, on Sunday there’s that football game….

Left to right: Richard Larsen of Shelburne, Massachusetts, Spider Burbank of Seatttle, Washington, and Elissa Reahm of Worcester, Massachusetts, enjoy the marathon.

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, February 3, 2010

CRAFTSBURY — About 864 Nordic skiers found enough snow on the groomed trails at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center Saturday to race in a 50-kilometer marathon, a 25-kilometer marathon, and a relay race for 14 Vermont high school teams.

The overall winner of the 50-kilometer marathon skied across the finish line in two and a half hours and 28.7 seconds.  Juergen Uhl was followed closely by Tim Reynolds, 2:30:33.6, and by Justin Freeman, 2:31:06.6

Susan Dunklee of Barton won the women’s 50-kilometer race in 3:01:38.7.  She is a member of the U.S. Biathlon Team.  Second was Anna McLoon, 3:06:01.4 and third was Dorcas Wonsavage at 3:07:20:4.

About 100 skiers raced in the Dash for Cash race Thursday, January 28, and 200 in the masters 10-kilometer race on Friday.

Earlier in the week, about an inch and a half of warm rain threatened to wipe away the entire course and all the trails.

“If we hadn’t been snow-farming since November,” said John Brodhead, things would have been a lot worse.  But the staff at the center has been scooping up snow every time an inch fell in the parking lot, shoveling it, scooping it, and moving it to the trails.

“We had quite a substantial base on the 12.5-kilometer loop,” he said. Mr. Bordhead is the marathon and ski director.  “Fortunately it shopped short of completely wiping us out.”

The marathon start.

On Thursday a couple of inches of new snow fell, and that helped too, but not enough to open up all the trails for the original course.  Instead, the tour part of the event was postponed until March 7.

The resutling course changes meant 50-kilometer marathoners went around a loop that brought them back near the start and finish area four times.  As a result, the race was more spectator-friendly.  Despite the cold, a good-sized crowd watched and cheered on the skiers as they went speeding past.

The high school students numbered 264 skiers, many of whom had parents on hand.  And a huge cadre of staff and volunteers kept the whole thing working.  Mr. Brodhead said there were about 20 staff members and 100 volunteers.  More had signed up, but not all of them were needed.  The course changes meant there were no road crossings, for one thing.

“It worked very smoothly, Mr. Brodhead said.  “It was like a well-oiled machine.”

In fact a well-oiled machine might not have worked as well in the below-zero temperatures at the very start.  The temperature at the start of the race, at 9 a.m., was two or three below zero Fahrenheit, Mr. Brodhead said.  He said guidelines say a race should not be run if it is less than four below.

There were some skiers who suffered from frostbite.

“It’s not that uncommon for people to freeze their ears,” Mr. Brodhead said.  “You don’t feel it, that’s the problem.”

He and the staff and volunteers kept an eye out for people whose ears appeared to be freezing to let them know as they skied by.  He said he was appalled at the number of people who didn’t have their ears covered.

John Gerstenberger of Dartmouth, the winner of the men’s 25-kilometer race, said he did the first half of the race with a balaclava, but his ears were still cold so he switched to a wool hat at the half point.  He said he had worn two race suits for extra warmth, but he was still cold on the down hills.

Chris Beattie of Lake Placid, New York, keeps up his pace despite a frozen beard.

Mr. Gerstenberger said his Dartmouth teammates were giving him a hard time for choosing the shorter race, but he felt it would be better for him that day and that he could push himself more and go faster on the shorter race.  (Even though it is shorter, 25 kilometers is still about 15 and a half miles.)

As the day went along, the sun warmed things up considerably.  Spectators could get warm by an outside bonfire or a stove in the ski shop.

Full results are available on the outdoor center’s website, http://www.craftsbury.com.

Tim Reynolds, the second place finisher in the 50-kilometer marathon for men, is part of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, a new project at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.

Mr. Brodhead explained that when the new owners, Dick Dreissigacker and Judy Geer, bought the outdoor center they made it into a nonprofit organization.  They started the Craftsbury Green Racing Project and merged the two.  Its mission is to support Nordic skiers who could be competitive at the international level.  Often, Mr. Brodhead said, a skier graduates from college and might not quite make the United States team or the Olympic team but might be close to that level of competition.

The Craftsbury Green Racing Project allows seven athletes to live and train at the center full-time, year-round, and pays all their room and board and travel expenses in exchange for 15 hours a week of work.

The mission, as described on the web site, is to support Nordic skiiing and to use “sustainable systems” and for the skiers to influence others to be more environmentally conscious.

Another shot of the start.

One of the skiers is Ida Sargent, who grew up in Orleans and is currently the captain of the women’s Nordic team at Dartmouth.  She went to Burke Mountain Academy and on Monday was on her way back home after scoring fourth in a freestyle sprint at under 23-year-old world champioships in Hinterzarten, Germany.

“It was a really fun day,” says Ms. Sargent in a video that appears in a link on the outdoor center’s site.  She says she prefers short, hard courses.

On the center’s web site, each team member has a brief bio, including “green vice” and green virtue.”

Ms. Sargent’s green vice is that she loves to travel and fly in airplanes.  Her green virtue is that her favorite food is locally hunted venison.

Mr. Brodhead said he does not know yet what the course will be for the 25-kilometer tour on March 7, but it will be a more relaxed event since no one will be racing that day.  It might be a loop through the town.  Sponsors typically provide gourmet foods along the way.

Fast feet at the race start.

Determination.

A relay skier from one of the 14 high schools that participated.